Tuesday, August 19, 2008

An Open Challenge to Chomsky, Zerzan & Zinn

Like many others around the world, I owe a great deal of my political awareness and social consciousness to Noam Chomsky, John Zerzan and Howard Zinn.

From reading Chomsky I was made aware of the ongoing effects of bureaucratic policies sanctioning war and death squads. Zerzan made clear the depths of alienation from sustainable pathways and the need for truly radical change. Zinn not only impressed upon me the honest brutality of American history, but his his promotion of Gandhian non-violence (which I don't wholly agree with) is so much more promising than the useless finger-wagging and petition-passing undertaken by so many in the name of activism.

I have personally spoken with Zerzan and Zinn and have exchanged written correspondence with Zerzan and Chomsky in the form of letters and email. And, as much as I respect and admire these three, I have tried to challenge them rather than simply flatter and defer. Often it may have come across as youthful arrogance or hubris, but great people need intellectual challenges from those who esteem them and regard them as allies. Simple deference and toadyism is best left to crumbling aristocracies.

To Chomsky I once wrote:
"I do believe that violence is an ever-present reality that has brought (and can bring) some degree of liberation. For example, when the British pulled out of Gandhi's India it wasn't just because of Gandhian satyagraha -- it was also because many Indians were starting to get up-in-arms and menacing to the empire. Similarly, here in the US, it wasn't just the freedom riders and the MLK's that brought some degree of justice to African-Americans. The black militants of that era proved that people of color were not going to be pushed around any more. They set an example and the riots may have sealed much of the equal rights deal.

As for peak oil, we'll have to agree to disagree. I believe the science is out there to prove it's reality. Furthermore, alternative energy is just not a realistic substitute for all of the uses for petroleum. Solar power will never move grocery store semi-trailers and wind power isn't capable of diverting the Colorado river to the people of Los Angeles. The subtle role petro-chemicals play in our lives will have a devastating effect when the petroleum they derive from is gone. Processed petro-chemicals (largely for agriculture) are the number one export of the US. I'm sure we both agree on the danger of nuclear power (and besides, it's depletable too)."

To Zinn, whom I've spoken with at two of his speaking engagements, I once asked (in my blunt youth):

"How many people do you think it would have take chained to the gates of Auschwitz to shut that camp down?" Caught off guard, he flippantly replied, "About a million," and then went on to explain that WW2 was not about freeing the Jews. And while he was right about the latter point, I couldn't disagree more with his initial response -- and I think it reveals a literally fatal flaw in Gandhian non-violence when dealing with a truly despotic regime.

To Zerzan, I played the devil's advocate in questioning his denunciation of reformist procedures. I did so, mostly, just to get a rise out of the man whom I regard as the most important anarchist philosopher of our age -- and I succeeded. He once bought me a bus ticket out of Eugene.

I beg them all now to forgive any lack of tact or social grace that I may have exhibited. Those who know me, know that I am a flawed character -- and I am painfully aware of this reality of myself. I have tried to become a milder, less objectionable person... but I probably still have a little bit of work to do in that regard.

Let me get to the point of this open letter by way of some personal history...

I am an activist, a radical activist and, in my younger days, a very radical activist. I burnt my first flag in high school while a member of the debate team and I wore its charred tatters on the back of my jacket. After that, I produced a little zine promoting veganism and Gandhian non-violence. Later, I hitchhiked up and down the the west coast with a suitcase full of Gandhi autobiographies for sale. I've been the guest anarchist on a talk radio program and I've called in countless other times to comment -- even getting through to Larry King Live once. I've protested everything from wars, to the KKK, to McDonald's (and the McDonald's I worked against most directly is now a post office).

At the WTO protest, in Seattle '99, I was not only teargassed and pepper sprayed, but I was also drugged at the Capitol Hill protest when the police ran amuck. I was encouraging people to stay in the streets and pointing out the police thugs in the crowd who were wearing the same yellow jackets as the thugs on nearby rooftops. I was generally encouraging resistance and mocking the city councilman who was trying to get people onto the sidewalks. Then a guy approached me with some funny $3 bills (with Bill Clinton's picture on them) suggesting the symbolic act of burning the money. As soon as I took the money my my fingers immediately got sticky and I noticed the guy who handed it to me was wearing gloves. He disappeared into the crowd and I tried to warn others about what just happened. A while later the councilman walked through the crowd again, looked me square in the face with a smile and asked, "So, how are you feeling?" While fairly inexperienced with most drugs, I never tripped harder in my life -- or in a more unpleasant environment. My friend and I were the last two protesters on Capitol Hill that night and I practically had to drag him away as the police were advancing through the teargas.

But it wasn't until I started publicly advocating the actions of the Earth Liberation Front (NOT engaging in their activities, mind you) that the heat really started coming down on me. (I had been run down on my bicycle by a private snowplow [in 70 degree weather] by a driver who should have seen me, but I'm not certain I can blame the sustained injuries on the state.) When I started advocating the actions of the E.L.F. I was assigned a constant tail. This worm showed up everywhere I went in town (Arcata, CA). He parked in front of my apartment (Judi Bari's old Earth First! office) and late at night, when I went to the grocery store, he would be the only other customer there. (I have good reason to believe that he was involved with the arson of the old Northcoast Environmental Center but I have no definitive proof and I am not naming names as I hope to get this article syndicated.)

Suffice it to say, this was a very psychologically taxing time. My friends, and even housemates, were behaving increasingly suspicious. I would find leaflets on my doorstep promoting self-euthanasia in support of the environment. People close to me began spreading lies about others and so... I decided to go back home to Rockford, IL. My grandmother bought me a Greyhound ticket and I began my journey home on the morning of Sept. 11th, 2001.

When I arrived back home, after a long absence, my life was in shambles. Physically, mentally, spiritually and psychologically I was in shambles. I was 27 years old, defeated, living with my Grandmother and working as a clerk in a gas station/convenience store.

On the morning of November 23rd, 2001 (the day after Thanksgiving) I attempted suicide by means of self-immolation at Cherryvale Mall (in a would-be last act of protest against materialism, consumerism and generally what I felt was wrong with this messed up world). I went to the upper level, failed to handcuff myself to the thick railing, told everyone to "STAND BACK," and I lit myself on fire. Even now, seven years later, it's hard to talk about. Adbusters published an abbreviated letter I wrote on the subject and that's about all I've said about it.

I expected to die, I expected the mall to close for the day, and I expected my protest to be understood for what it was. I was wrong on all accounts. It was the worst mistake of my life -- one that I regret every day -- and I am ashamed and sorry for what I did. I am thankful to the good Samaritan who saved my life and am glad to be alive (despite being in a coma for a month and having scars over a third of my body). Suicide is a poor option and I hope no one makes the choice to do what I did. I spent 6 months in a mental institution after I got out of the burn unit and, all in all, I can't hardly imagine a more hellish experience.

You don't have to feel sorry for me (as it was my mistake and I've since tried to move on with my life in more healthy directions). But most people aren't aware of all the circumstances and, while they don't justify my actions, I do feel that I was somewhat pushed in the direction I regretfully went. Psyops are used by the U.S. government, people are drugged by the state, and healthier people than me have probably cracked; been pushed over the edge.

The three of you (to whom I address this open letter) may not have experienced this kind of thing personally, but I beg you to consider the truly insidious and diabolic nature of the state -- especially when it's agents feel they can act with impunity against someone, someone like me.

I come from very humble origins, have no degree (was expelled from high school), and socially I'm awkward even outside the realm of politics. I come from a place with horrible politics, redneck central, and standoffish eccentrism has probably served me well in that environment. But the point is... I was isolated. It's true that your books helped, but I was self-educated and radicalized on my own -- alone with hardly even any liberals around. My activism was my own and I stood alone, easily targeted.

But I don't feel that I was targeted because I was simply an activist, I think I was good at what I did. More people have probably read my writing and seen my agitprop than is realized. Sometimes as a sticker, sometimes as a leaflet, sometimes as a letter to the editor, I found ways to spread my ideas without always going through the normal channels or receiving any recognition or accolades. Regardless, I feel like the memes I've helped to spread have, in fact, spread. I even suspect that some of my original ideas may have possibly taken root. This is probably because many societal problems are at a crisis level and people feel the need for direct, radical and immediate action. In any case, ironically, the state probably has a more comprehensive summary of my activism than many of my friends (most of whom know little to none of the information I've written here).

So now that I've told you where I've been and where I'm coming from, I'll tell you where I'm at and where I'm going -- and why I've written this open letter...

I am not the agitating young firebrand I was. I'm honestly less concerned than I was with changing the world and I've realized a certain amount of futility in trying. Not that I'm hopeless, merely that I'm not expecting as much positive change or as consumed by the world's problems. These days I spend as much time playing cards, video games and fantasy baseball as I do on anything else. Nevertheless, some of my recent articles have been syndicated and even headlined at OpEdNews. I think this goes show the level-headed populism of my work. Other individuals have seen the articles at that website and reposted them elsewhere -- again demonstrating the relatively mainstream practicality of my writing. But success has come at a price... I fear that I may once again be on the governments radar.

My most recent article, "Tactics and Prognosis for a Successful RNC Protest" was headlined at the prominent anarchist site Infoshop News and that version of the article has now ranked for about a week near the top of Google search results when querying "rnc protest". As of today, it's the third listed item for that search (only after 2 links for http://protestrnc2008.org). And two other versions of the article (which random people have reposted on their own) are regularly ranking in the top 20 search results (so people looking for RNC protest information can't help but to see the article title appearing repeatedly). Consequently, while I was honored that Infoshop News headlined the article (and that others liked it enough to re-present it on their various sites), I worry now that the state may target me again for continuing to be a successfully vocal dissident. If you search for "RNC protest activist" or "RNC protest anarchist" my article is at the very top of the results page (sometimes in all the various versions, sometimes with the older articles) and that has me a bit worried -- if somewhat proud at the same time.

"Tactics and Prognosis" is the third article I've written on the subject in recent months and the other two, Thoughts on the Upcoming RNC Protests & Be Prepared for Police Violence at the RNC Protest, also appear fairly high in various searches on the subject. In none of the articles do I encourage violence or property destruction on behalf of the protest. The rub is that I don't condemn those who are striking back against the corrupt system which is destroying their lives. In fact, I think certain levels of physically aggressive militancy are quite justifiable. But I'll say it again... I am not going to be violent or destructive at the protest (or in the foreseeable future beyond the protest for that matter). I simply don't want to go through the incarceration process again. I'll be present to stand in the streets with the masses -- armed only with cameras. If I get in trouble, despite my relative passivity, I'll be ready to make my case and tell my story.

In addition to justifying (not encouraging) physical resistance, the articles support the proposed blockade tactics (which many groups have signed onto) and also the idea of breakaway protest marches (as a permitted protest isn't much of a protest at all). The articles also present many clickable text links to video examples of police brutality (which frequently occurs at these mass protests directed especially towards non-violent protesters) and I also focus on the ways in which the corporate media outlets whitewash the criminal police misconduct. The point is that the police are supposed to be disciplined and practice restraint (even with surly protesters) but they readily brutalize even the most passive and non-violent of protesters (not to mention uninvolved passers-by). The pigs should be called out on this and potential protesters should be expecting this treatment (even as they commit to show up and express their dissent).

My fear is that I will be targeted again (as I was at the aforementioned WTO protest) for spreading these ideas in light of my previous protest history. It may even be more likely this time around.

So what I'm asking for (from Chomsky, Zerzan & Zinn) is your public support if the state goes after me. This was obviously written preemptively, but I still fear it may happen and I may at least require legal assistance if I'm not violently decapacitated in some way. You may think it grandiose and absurd of me to suggest these things because I've not had books published or gained any notable public recognition. But I've been in the streets, am going back to the streets, and I've been a part of the revolutionary liberation movement (what there is of it) for years. And that's precisely what makes me a target. I am not the idealized notion of a radical/activist, but I don't think I should be forsaken while my work is trivialized. Here is the challenge I issue to the three whom this article is addressed:

1) Publicly support and encourage people to protest the fascistic Republicans as they gather and organize in St. Paul, MN (Sept. 1-4, 2008). They are going to be networking, promoting and celebrating more of the same destruction they've already wrought.

2) Help find legal support for myself and others when we are targeted by the state for protesting, organizing, and/or advocating radical activity.

3) Consider making an effort towards finding a place for people like myself in more established radical circles. Even work as a fairly compensated wage slave could be helpful. We can write/edit/bake/sew and we deserve support from established communities (rather than being forced to work for a pittance under petit tyrants in the system we are struggling against).

I realize that these challenges combine community building with calls to action, but I only know how to make radical requests. Please respond to the best of your ability, however you may, in as timely a manner as you are capable. I am requesting that this open letter be featured at OpEdNews (as they have a good progressive network in place and deserve any traffic your responses may create). I will also be emailing this to your respective accounts and reposting it in various newsgroups (like alt.fan.noam-chomsky & alt.anarchism). I am requesting that your friends and colleagues bring this article to your attention as well. Whether any of you three choose to stoop in response to this letter, I would ask that you each publicly support a growing protest movement as energetically as you are able. Specifically to Mr. Zinn, I request that you, if you choose to disparage other forms of militancy, pointedly encourage Gandhian militancy (because Gandhi and MLK did much more than simply wave signs and march down permitted routes).

Respectfully & Sincerely,
In Revolution,


Nathan said...


Cold Snap collective will be providing what legal support they can.

______________________ said...

I would like to thank Nathan at Coldsnap Legal, and others, for their support. I am preemptively seeking potential legal and media support (in a number of channels) with some success.

So far Chomsky has replied in brief: "Sorry to hear what you have endured. I hope the repression you fear will not eventuate, and that if it does, an appropriate support network will be established, which I would expect to participate in as in many other cases."

Zerzan seems to feel that I am unnecessarily fearful in the context of, and despite, my past experiences. I can understand his concern but do not feel that I am overreacting with my responses to the potentialities and historical realities of the state. He has given a few kind words of support but I am generally saddened and disappointed by his response thus far.

Zinn has not responded although I did try to contact him through prominent websites established on his behalf.

Responses from the 3 in question were obviously not necessary as I mainly wanted to encourage them to go the extra mile in promoting the protest/activist community, gain some support (as I have), and share my experiences.

I could have remained silent about all of these matters but finally felt compelled to share my story (as I feel it may help others avoid the situations I've found myself in). Perhaps it was a mistake, but I look forward to returning to more mundane matters when the RNC Protest is over (assuming I do not have to mount a boisterous legal defense in regard to that event).

Anonymous said...

It's strange that you think Zerzan is so important, when he has done so much to attack and undermine and destroy anarchist ideas that actually work (such as libertarian communism/platformism/libertarian socialism and anarcho-syndicalism), and he and Bob Black have viciously attacked anyone who wont "get with" their pro-violence, primitivist, and anti-work ideological platform.

Also, trying to appeal to theoretical leaders and convince them of this and that in order to somehow effect change is rather silly. You really should go into the urban and rural 'hood and talk to poor latinos, whites and blacks and actually see what common, ordinary working class and poor people think of your ideas, and listen to them closely after making your point. Listen a bit more more than speaking.

______________________ said...

While I don't think Zerzan's importance depends on agreement from you or me, I think your recognition of him actually speaks to how broadly influential he is. Like him or not, he is a player in the scene -- and certainly not all philosophical anarchists have been peaceniks (by any means). As for "viciously attacking" anyone, I'm not aware of any such incident. (If you mean that he put people in their place with words, we may have much different opinions on the meanings of violence and attack.)

As for the variants of anarchism which you claim "actually work," I'm not as convinced as you are in that regard. My feeling is that anarchistic primitive societies have had the longest and greatest success -- much more than ANY other system of social organization. But how we get back there is a serious question. Will enough primitives be able to last out and hide away during the storm of techno-industrial civilization? Is that a default system of human organization when everything else goes to hell? I don't know, but I expect we'll see. And other people will be struggling to reassert those primitive values and organize in a primitivist manner.

As for talking to the urban poor... you have no idea how much I have done that -- nor how much I've listened. What I've found is that there are intelligent people in all walks of life, in all socio-economic circumstances, of every race, color and creed. But I've also found that most people are hopelessly domesticated and brainwashed by the dominant system. I am far more outspoken in this blog than I am in person because I think people who take the time read this much have a greater attention span and the ability to follow more complex ideas and arguments. In person I don't lay it all out like this because it would be rather uncouth, uncomfortable, and probably ineffective at getting my points across. As for listening more... I listen a lot already. And I know that one can go a long time without hearing much worthwhile on the assembly line, in the convenience stores, or at the bars. Most people just don't get it at all, have no clue, and are a complete waste of everyone's time. Why would I want to focus upon them when I could focus on Chomsky, Zerzan & Zinn? Then, if they are in agreement with me, they can throw out a few good words about my angles and ideas. That would probably effect change more than having a lengthy conversation with the whore and the pan-handling leper on my street corner (as poor and as urban as they may be). Such tactics might have worked for Jesus, but I'm not Jesus. So I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is.